On April 2, 2009, the Forest Supervisor for the George Washington National Forest wrote a letter, available at http://www.windaction.org/documents/20686, denying a permit application which had sought to place three wind monitoring towers within the National Forest boundary. The permit applicant, FreedomWorks, LLC, is a renewable-energy company based in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The wind monitoring towers were the first step of a wind energy project proposed by FreedomWorks which envisioned constructing 131 large wind turbines on top of a mountain range straddling the border between West Virginia and Virginia.
The Forest Supervisor’s letter explained that the permit was denied because the proposal did not comply with the standards of the forest management plan for the area, which is managed as Remote Habitat for Wildlife, because it would have created too many open roads, would have violated the visual standard of the forest, would have changed the character of the forest for visitors, and may have impacted local bat populations already threatened by of an unrelated disease. Additionally, the Forest Supervisor denied the permit because FreedomWorks did not adequately explain why the wind project could not be built on private land rather than in the National Forest.
The FreedomWorks project would have created roughly sixteen miles of roads, significantly more than the .9 miles of roads that already existed in the area. While these roads would not have been open to the public, the Forest Supervisor claimed that the traffic from the contractors alone would have interfered with the management goal of having a mature forest environment. The Forest Supervisor likewise claimed that the road and the towers would interfere with the “Semi-Primitive Motorized” character of the area, which allows visitors to be “removed from human activity and experience solitude and serenity” while providing an “[o]pportunity for self-reliance, challenge, and risk”.
The towers were also denied because they would not have complied with the “partial retention” visual standard of the forest, which requires that all man-made structures remain visually subordinate to the natural landscape. Reaching 400 feet in height, the Forest Supervisor felt that the wind towers and turbines would clearly violate this visual standard. Finally, the Forest Service claimed that the emergence of “White Nose Syndrome”, a disease which has been harming nearby bat populations, created an increased concern that the impacts of the turbines on bats in the area would be especially devastating.
The second area of concern that the Forest Supervisor had with the proposal was that FreedomWorks failed to explain why National Forest land had to be used for the project. National Forest policy dictates that land-use proposals should be denied “when the request is based solely on affording the proponent with a lower cost or less restrictive location than can be obtained on non-Federal lands”. The Forest Supervisor claimed that within 100 miles of Washington, D.C., which was the intended market for the power generated by the windmills, there are numerous privately owned mountain ridges and opportunities for off-shore wind farms.
This rejection letter from the George Washington National Forest is significant because it calls into question whether many of the most suitable sites for wind farms will be available for development. If one looks at a map of the best locations for potential wind farms in the mid-atlantic region, available at http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/images/windmaps/wv_50m_800.jpg, and overlays that with a map which shows the 1.2 million acres of the Monongahela and George Washington National Forests, available at http://www.fs.fed.us/sopa/state-level.php?wv, one quickly discovers that many of the best wind farm locations are on National Forest land. To date, no wind turbines have been proposed in the Monongahela National Forest, which contains many sites that are most amenable for wind development. If the Monongahela National Forest proves to be as unreceptive to wind farms as the George Washington National Forest has been, states could find they are largely cut out of what may prove to be an emerging market for wind power.
National Forests are routinely utilized by private individuals for timber harvesting, livestock grazing, and recreation businesses. Therefore, before the recent letter of denial from George Washington National Forest, it seemed possible that National Forest lands might be leased for wind farms. The denial letter, combined with the years of delays which the nation’s only other wind project in Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest has endured http://www.windaction.org/news/14904, makes clear that private companies in any state wishing to acquire a wind farm lease in any National Forest throughout the country will face an uphill battle.
This article was authored by Donnie L. Adkins, Jackson Kelly PLLC. For more information on the author see here.